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Posts filed under ‘Chrysler’

Styling Misfires: The Chrysler Cirrus

August 27, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Cirrus Green

I have a feeling Chrysler vehicles will appear as parts of the “Styling Misfires” series with distressing regularity. It’s unfortunate, really, given the automaker’s penchant for engineering creativity (when sufficiently funded) compared to its rivals, that its designs should be so enduringly bad.

The car spotlighted in this post, the ’95-’00 Cirrus, was kind of a big deal for Chrysler. Coming on the heels of the unlamented, epically frumpy LeBaron, it was expected to spearhead a surge of popularity for its manufacturer in the lucrative midsize segment. Designed to compete against the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry as well as the newly-introduced Ford Contour, the Cirrus had its work cut out for it.

Chrysler Cirrus Brown Auburn Maroon

And while the basic chassis dynamics were good, the car certainly wasn’t as polished and refined as its Japanese rivals. Not only that, the fascia was just hideous to behold. If it had any appeal within the current styling climate, that trend evaporated before its wheels hit the showroom floors. To state the obvious, the Cirrus looks like its bumper got clobbered and was cursed to forever carry a bloated lower lip as a reminder of the altercation. The cause must have been an all-too familiar scene from the design world: Stylists get too engrossed in their creation without pausing and taking a few steps back to examine the context of their work and ask themselves the hard questions like “What would this look like to the average passerby? What bodily feature would they immediately compare it to?” Nope—the designers must have simply put their heads down and carried on.

For what it’s worth, I tried very hard to like the Cirrus. I really did. Most automotive publications actually praised the styling direction, complimenting its “daring” and “distinctive” lines in contrast to its competitors’ more conservative shapes—and I took them at their word. Rather than trusting my intuition that what I beheld in the Cirrus was a ghastly, bloated-looking design, I distinctly remember concluding that I just must not have been able to appreciate it; that the fault lay with me; that I needed to recalibrate my taste. Contributing to this mindset was the fact that Chrysler was, and still is, the “underdog” compared to the other two, more robust members of the Big Three: GM and Ford. I liked the underdog; the idea of taking chances both mechanically and stylistically appealed to me, so I was even more predisposed to approve of the Cirrus’ design.

In the ensuing years I came to appreciate the fact (obvious to most) that even the so-called “experts” among the journalism world can be guilty of bandwagoning just as much as the rest of us, and with a more confident aesthetic sense, I realized my gut reaction to the Cirrus styling had been spot-on. Lesson learned.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

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Styling Misfires: The Chrysler 300M

July 29, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler 300M Silver Gray Grey

This truly is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Astonishingly, the Chrysler 300M was Motor Trend‘s 1999 Car of the Year and placed in the coveted Car and Driver 10 Best for both 1999 and 2000.

I have one question: Did they look at it? If they did, what other explanation could there be for the accolades it earned? Were the editors paid off by the automaker’s marketing department? Or was there some other reason for the peer pressure that seems to have prevented them from calling Chrysler on their styling disaster?

Chrysler 300M Black

Mercifully, the car was only with us for 6 years, from 1999 to 2004. An example of Chrysler’s “cab forward” platform architecture, the 300M’s front wheels were powered by a 255-hp V6. Billed as a sports sedan and formulated in large part for the European market, its handling, power and interior space were by all accounts respectable.

But for heaven’s sake, just look at it. The 300M’s length was reduced for more size-conscious European sensibilities by simply lopping the end off the trunk, creating a massive disconnect with the rounded lines everywhere else on the car. The overall proportions are blobby and distended, and the nose, oh the nose. The car’s fascia seems more like a random collection of shapes sprayed onto the front bumper with no relationship whatsoever to each other. It’s just a disaster.

So the question remains: Why on earth did no automotive journalist pipe up and topple Chrysler’s stylistic house of cards? I suppose we’ll never know.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series wherein I discuss unsuccessful cars whose styling was their overlooked (or denied) Achilles heel. Read the other installments here:

9 Comments on Styling Misfires: The Chrysler 300M

2013 SRT Viper Styling
Draws Cues From the Original

April 26, 2012 by Matt

2013 SRT Viper Dodge Red New Rear Back Taillights

The more things change…

The Viper has returned after a two-year hiatus, this time bearing an SRT badge instead of the old Dodge one, and with more power than ever, but design-wise, one could be forgiven for thinking they were in a kind of time-warp while beholding it.

Packing 640 hp from its signature 8.4l pushrod V10, the car’s developers insist a primary goal was to civilize the car, making it more livable and accessible while preserving its rawness and character, and I’ve no doubt they’ve made great strides in that direction. When considering its competition—the Corvette ZR1, Shelby GT500, various Ferraris and Porsches—its horsepower figure seems barely adequate; it was certainly easier top the supercar mountain when the original 400-hp Viper first exploded onto the scene in all its irreverent glory in the early ’90s. Brute power isn’t enough anymore, so there was little else for the engineers to do except make it more docile.

2013 SRT Viper Dodge Red New

That being the case, the chassis engineers seem to have charged the stylists with carrying the torch of the Viper’s innate essence. To accomplish this, the designers basically pretended that the previous generation ’03-’10 car never existed and penned a surprisingly cursory update of the original ’96-’02 Viper GTS coupe. Where the ’03-’10 car’s waistline was relatively undramatic, the new car’s flanks plunge in the manner of the original’s. The double-bubble roof and ducktail spoiler have even returned.

And as much as I’d like to criticize Chrysler for designing something so derivative of one of their previous products, I just can’t. See, the original Viper GTS coupe is hands-down one of the best looking American cars ever. It’s extroverted, yes, but all the lines resolve perfectly, whether on the front end, the side or at the rear. It’s a flamboyant, yet cohesive shape, and the new Viper’s stylists were right to recognize near-perfection when they saw it, and try to emulate it. It’s not like it’ll ever be mistaken for anything else.

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Draws Cues From the Original

Technical Curiosities: The Turbine Car

March 13, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Turbine Car Jet Engine Gas Burnt Orange Red Concept

Forget that “nibbling around the edges” school of technological innovation; here’s an example of a car that went all the way, as it were, and adopted a completely different powerplant.

Built in ’63 to the tune of 55 examples, Chrysler’s Turbine Cars were never mass-produced, but did log an impressive number of miles as a demonstrator fleet. Essentially a completely normal car that happened to be powered, via the wheels, by a jet engine, the Turbine Car was a promising innovation dogged by politics all during its long gestation.

Chrysler Turbine Car Jet Engine Gas Engine Motor Powerplant Cutaway Diagram Schematic Drawing

How did it work? Quite simply. The turbine, which spun at up to 44,500 rpm, was connected to an ordinary torque converter and automatic transmission via a gear reduction unit. From there the power was transmitted to the back wheels by means of a basic Hotchkiss axle. The turbine required no liquid cooling system, and the bearings were sealed, so it needed no oil changes. A single spark plug provided the ignition source upon startup; after that the combustion flame was self-sustaining, much like the pilot light in a home furnace. Power output? A respectable 130 hp, and a startling 425 lb-ft of torque available just off idle, a characteristic of the turbine engine not unlike modern electric motors, and one that enabled the Turbine Car to hustle from a standstill to 60 mph in around 12 seconds, decent for the day.

What were some other upsides of the engine, besides the ones mentioned above? The engine could run on just about any combustible hydrocarbon (gasoline, diesel, kerosene, etc), and the operation of the turbine was exceedingly smooth. In addition the simplicity of the peripherals, the engine itself was blessed with only 60 or so moving parts, in contrast to the many hundreds of a typical piston engine. The reliability of the 55 demonstrators affirmed the turbine’s quality: They were an order of magnitude more durable than contemporary reciprocating engines, and that from a powerplant with a miniscule fraction of the development time undergone by its rivals.

Chrysler Turbine Car Jet Engine Gas Concept Cutaway Diagram Schematic Drawing

Disadvantages? In an era used to big, throbbing pushrod V8s, the vacuum cleaner-like sound of the turbine was off-putting. The engine did produce an excessive amount of exhaust heat—being, as it was, an actual jet engine—and Chrysler fitted an oversized and flattened exhaust system to absorb and diffuse as much of the heat as possible. Also, because of the temperatures inside the turbine, some exotic materials were used in its construction, raising the price tag a bit—though mass production and economies of scale would have certainly lessened the blow. One of the biggest downsides to the engine, and one Chrysler worked tirelessly to correct, was persistent throttle lag, caused by the time it took for the turbine to spool up and deliver power to the wheels. Drivers in the muscle car era of the ’60s expected instant power when they punched the gas pedal, and throttle lag cooled considerably whatever enthusiasm they might have felt for the new technology.

It’s a shame the Turbine Car wasn’t picked up for production, killed by politics and a general lack of public enthusiasm in the early ’70s. Perhaps if the red tape hadn’t been present, and the engine had had a company whose devotion to the engine was as strong as, say, Mazda’s for the rotary, we might see a handful of gas turbine-powered models for sale today. Who knows.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting obscure automotive engineering solutions. Read the other installments here:

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Underrated Lookers:
The ’96-’98 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

February 12, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Sebring Convertible Vert Cabriolet Cabrio Droptop Ragtop Beige Brown Tan Bronze 1996 96

As the adage goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Ever in the midst of wild design flailings, everything miraculously came together for Chrysler with the above car, the ’96-’98 Chrysler Sebring Convertible. I want to be very specific about the model year range I have in mind, because the train jumped the tracks, as it were, very quickly.

For a moment, though, let’s examine the design under consideration. Long, low proportions? Check. Well-resolved lines and absence of fussy surface detail? Yessir. Understated grille shape with stroke-of-genius Jag E-Type chrome bar bisecting the opening? Got it. Nicely-shaped wheels complementing the overall styling? Yep. For what the car needed to be—a dedicated boulevard cruiser than drew just enough (but not too much) attention to itself to reflect well on its occupants—the design was absolutely, stunningly perfect. I honestly don’t know if even as established a high-roller droptop as the Mercedes SL has anything on the ’96-’98 Sebring Convertible, if you take the “badge prestige” factor out of the equation. It’s that good.

Chrysler Sebring Convertible Vert Cabriolet Cabrio Droptop Ragtop Green 1996 96

As mentioned above, though, Chrysler just couldn’t well enough (or in this case, excellent) alone and had to fiddle with the design. The car lost its lovely grille bar for ’99, and received a few other design tweaks that negatively altered the coherency of the shape. And the second- and third-generation Sebring convertibles aren’t really even worth mentioning in the same article as the ’96-’98 car; they’re as hideously abominable as the original was gorgeous. We’re talking paper-bag-over-the-head territory here.

But for one brief, shining moment, Chrysler pulled it together and delivered a stunner. Shame they didn’t learn from their success.

Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series featuring cars whose design I find appealing, in contrast to mainstream opinion. Read the other installments here:

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The ’96-’98 Chrysler Sebring Convertible

Chrysler Super Bowl Ads:
Misadventures in Promotion

February 7, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Super Bowl Superbowl Ad Advert 2012 Clint Eastwood Halftime

One of the larger “controversies” (if you can call it that) to emerge from our NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl entertainment spectacle this past Sunday evening was the hubbub generated by Chrysler’s latest TV spot.

Reprising the rah-rah pro-America theme from last year’s ad, Chrysler’s 2012 effort aired during halftime and features narration by Clint Eastwood. In his inimitable voice, he extolls Detroit’s “revival,” extrapolating that to the country at large and encouraging us to “pull together” to fully recover from the economic malaise of the past few years. Chrysler isn’t explicitly mentioned other than brief glimpses of their cars and trucks throughout the clip, and the ad seems to focus more on drumming up latent positive feelings of patriotism which the viewer may or may not then translate to the automaker’s cars in particular.

Most of the online hand-wringing over the ad centered on the impression that it was a sort of thinly-veiled campaign spot for President Obama’s reelection. Tenuous parallels were drawn between the “halftime in America” line and the fact that a reelection campaign is a kind of “halftime” of a two-term president’s tenure. Also, the ad’s pleas for Americans to “pull together” seem to echo some of the administration’s rhetoric as they chastise Congress for its (in their eyes) intractability.

Rich Lowry at NRO, on the other hand, takes primary aim not at the ad’s tone, or at perceived implications of certain phrases, but at the spot’s revisionist history:

[It] is a half-baked tale about the revival of the automotive industry wrapped in economic nationalism: Dirty Harry does chest-thumping corporatism. Eastwood says that Americans are hurting and that “the people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now, Motor City is fighting again.”

We all pulled together? As euphemism, this is clever; as history, it is false. Congress never approved the bailouts. Given the option to do so explicitly, it declined. The Bush and Obama administrations acted on their own, diverting TARP funds to Detroit regardless of the letter of the law. In Eastwood’s telling, a legally dubious act of executive highhandedness qualifies as patriotic collective action.

This is the correct line of criticism: Not directed toward vague implications of the ad, but at what it calls out explicitly. We can debate all day over what Chrysler may or may not have suggested, but when actual facts are presented, we have solid ground on which to build an argument.

In any case, in response to the flurry of conversation, Eastwood himself debunked speculation about his loyalties, and by extension, the actual meaning of several debated phrases in the ad:

l am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK.

There you have it, from the horse’s mouth. If critics want something more substantial to seize upon, perhaps they should target last year’s Chrysler ad, which features rapper and Detroit native Eminem. The 2011 spot is a paean to Detroit’s resilience, much like this year’s ad, only it features an actual Chrysler product more prominently: the then-new 200 sedan. The spot is well-produced, to be sure, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a genuine car guy who wasn’t a little put off by the image of a gritty rapper cruising through downtown Detroit behind the wheel of a very un-thug-like vehicle, the kind of car more likely to turn up in a Kroger parking lot or be the mainstay of a rental fleet. For car buffs, that juxtaposition is more jarring than anything that graced the small screen this year.

Click on the jump below to watch this year’s and last year’s Chrysler Super Bowl ads:

Watch the clips!

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Misadventures in Promotion